For example, Muslim Americans working in Congress have prayed at the Capitol since at least the late 1990s. Gingrich was the first House Speaker to give Muslim American staffers approval to use one of the meeting rooms under the control of the Speaker's Office.
When asked about the difference between Muslims praying at the Pentagon -- another site attacked on September 11, or at the Capitol, Gingrich said, "People of prayer from all religions and denominations should be welcomed to pray. That is profoundly different from building a 13-story building next to hallowed ground."
"This is not an issue of religious liberty. There are over 100 mosques in New York City. I have said I would support a mosque and community center in the South Bronx. This is an issue of what is the right thing to do," he added.
But J. Saleh Williams, an African-Mexican Muslim American congressional aide educated at Stanford and Princeton Universities, says it is about being Muslim.
"Muslim Americans have become in the post-Cold-War the new 'other', the new threat. And there are people that seem to have vested interests to promote that notion. The vast majority of Muslims throughout the world are peace-loving," Williams said a recent interview with ABC News.
Williams is also the communications director of the Congressional Muslims Staffers Association, a group that knows what it's like to be demonized for representing Muslims. The non-partisan group was founded in 2005 by Muslim American staffers who wanted to teach members of Congress more about Muslims, as well as provide support and networking opportunities for Muslims working in government, or interested in working in government. The group was attacked by bloggers such as Pamela Geller, a conservative Republican.
On June 2, 2006, Geller blogged about the group in a post entitled, "ISLAM INFILTRATING CONGRESS AND HALLS OF POWER," writing, "there is a deliberate, carefully thought out, systematic program to infiltrate our Congress with the enemy." And in March 2009, controversy erupted over Williams submitting resumes of Muslim Americans to the White House.
Gellar was also one of the earliest and most vocal critics of the Park51 development. A Salon.com article traces the beginnings the Park51 controversy back to her.
The most recent polling on U.S. attitudes towards Islam, conducted by Gallup in late 2009, showed that of all the faiths Americans were asked about, Islam as a faith elicited the most negative views, with 53% of Americans saying their opinion of the faith is either "not too favorable" (22%) or "not favorable at all" (31%).
Forty-three percent of Americans admitted to feeling at least "a little" prejudice toward Muslims, with 9% feeling "a great deal" of prejudice. Only 3% reported having "a great deal of knowledge" about Islam.
Williams said one of the most misconceived notions about Muslims in the U.S. is that they are Arab, when really they consist of a broad swath of first, African-Americans, second, South Asians, and third, Arabs.
"Here in the United States it is assumed that someone that is Muslim is also inherently two things: not American -- whatever that means, there's no racial identity, you know, we're a society of immigrants; and that Muslims are Arab.